Tommaso Gianni 2016

Scholars, professional martial artists, and enthusiasts of martial arts tend to address some of the same basic cultural concepts when training and studying martial arts. For example, they often discuss concepts such as ‘qi’ and ‘health’ and their relationships to traditional Chinese medicine or whether to classify martial arts as competitive sports or spiritual practices. Their assumptions and concerns are often based on perspectives promulgated by earlier scholars. This paper presents the works of three influential British scholars who conducted research on Chinese martial arts in the late 19th through mid-20th centuries. Scottish physician John Dudgeon became interested in martial arts during his search for alternative healing treatments in China. He concluded that enhancing qi through the practice of Kungfu could improve health. English sinologist and diplomat, Herbert Giles, examined primary Chinese sources describing martial arts. He determined that Chinese boxing was a very old sport activity. In clarifying the origins and nature of martial arts, another English sinologist, Joseph Needham, concluded they were a form of gymnastics based in Taoist principles. He explored the relationship of martial practices to the ‘deadly points’. Their perspectives led them to adopt three different views. In uncovering their views on Chinese martial arts, this paper reveals that these three men, publishing their conclusions in English, disseminated assumptions and conceptual issues still affecting martial arts training and scholarship today.



Tommaso Gianni lectured on comparative martial arts cultures at the University of Suwon. He is completing an ethnographic work on comparative martial art pedagogies and translated into Italian for the EWTO. Among his works published: “Tang Hao e la sua ricerca sulle origini della tradizione [Tang Hao and his quest for the origins of a tradition]” in Gioco, Dramma, Rito nelle Arti Marziali e negli Sport da Combattimento presented at the first I.M.A.C.S.S.S. conference in Genova. He has written the preface to Riccio Global TaiChi and delivered a talk at the University of Siena-Confucius Institute. He has martial experience including Escrima and WingTsun.